Books of 2022

I’ve been doing this long enough that I’m getting consistently weirded out by changes to WordPress’s UI and have feelings about that, but also use this blogging platform inconsistently enough that I don’t remember if I had the same feelings last year.

Last year I remarked, at length, on the fact that it had been a decade since I started this project. I’m not going to do that again, although I feel like the commitment to both the tracking project and the reflecting piece probably says more about me than I think it does. #neurodivergentreaders

This, though, was the first year that I seriously intended to hit 150 books. Granted, I didn’t tell goodreads or Storygraph that, but my secret goal was to top 150 a second year in a row because if I could do it this year, I could set it as my goal next year and it would feel like a push, but not a stretch.

Reader, after an exhausting December where I read the fewest books of any month this year, we are at 155.

A graph from The Storygraph showing the 155 books and 51,721 pages I read this year.

In retrospect, that does make the job of picking my top books rather more difficult, but I’ll embrace that.

The thing is, I don’t (just) do this for the numbers. I’ve spent a while reflecting on why I read recently—other than that I can’t help myself and it’s a pretty necessary part of how I make myself human, which I also talked about last year—and the element that I keep coming back to is the way that I think and feel using books. Books are an integral part of how I think about the world, not just learning by reading nonfiction, but through fiction and especially speculative fiction as well. Alexis Shotwell (in Against Purity) quotes Samuel Delany (I think) saying:

We SF writers often say that science fiction prepares people to think about the real future—but that’s because it relates to the real present in the particular way it does; and that relation is neither one of prediction nor one of prophecy. It is one of dialogic, contestatory, agonistic creativity. In science fiction the future is only a writerly convention that allows the SF writer to indulge in a significant distortion of the present that sets up a rich and complex dialogue with the reader’s here and now.

Books are always talking about the world, suggesting other options, explaining their theory on how it works, prescribing and proscribing certain attitudes, everything. All books are an argument about the nature of reality and sitting with that argument, arguing back—which, incidentally, also explains my approach to reviews—and arguing on, and reading more is that dialogue with the world. It’s not surprising to me that most of the books on my top ten list are books that stuck with me because of how they served and continue to serve as texts with which I think and feel about the world.

Sometimes, to be fair, I read to take a break from thinking and that’s usually when rereading comes in. I don’t, as a rule, count rereads for coping, but I do count rereads for content. So, for example, when I reread C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces this year, it was to refresh myself on the content and use it in a class I was giving. When I relistened to the entire Dark Is Rising Sequence in the middle of December, that was mostly to have familiar stories while I knit and a little to get ready for the BBC audio drama version. Basically, if I’m reading it because I can’t face the prospect of reading something new, I don’t count it as read this year.

Anyway, let’s look at some of the stats. A quick note – Storygraph (which I really like and am a plus subscriber to) lets you do half and quarter stars, so this chart is going to look a bit different this year.

A pie chart showing the ratings for all my books. The biggest slice is 4 stars, at 45%

Okay, maybe not that different. The 3.5 mostly just eats into things that would otherwise have been fours and allows me to be slightly more persnickety. I believe most of the time, I bumped a book down rather than up…which, again, is probably a reflection on me rather than the books. But it does mean that I keep picking good ones.

Also, because I find it interesting, the average ratings per medium are:
3.9 for audiobooks,
3.4 for digital books,
3.9 for print.
I’m not sure this is telling me anything beyond that my dataset is too small for sweeping conclusions, but I’m open to the possibility. I might break book types down by genre as well and that might also be cool.

On the topic, here’s how format broke down this year. This, by the way, is a wild increase on the number of audiobooks I read in the year and it came almost entirely at the expense of digital books.

A pie chart showing that 28% of my books were audio, 28% were digital, and 45% were print

Last year was 67 digital and 21 audio, while this year was 43 for each. A significant amount of that change was because I had a commute this year and often spent the 30 minute walk home listening to a book. Also, I’ve been slowly increasing my audiobook reading speed (I think I started doing that last year, but really got into it this year) and, funnily enough, you go through more books at 1.75 speed than you do at normal speed. (For those of you who are suddenly realizing that the reason I speak so fast is because 1.75x is a speed that is comfortable for me to take in information and finding that revelatory, you’re welcome.)

This one is interesting. As usual, more than half of the books I read this year were published in the last 2 years, although fewer than previously.

A pie chart showing the books I read divided by year published. The largest category is 2021 at 29%,

Last year, more than 3/4 of my books were published in the last four years. This year, just slightly over 2/3. For some reason, I read more older books this year and way more stuff from the 20th century than I had last year: 15% of my books instead of 5%. And apparently that would be the fault of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin as I read a significant number of books by them this year. Also influenced by my “must reread Jewish feminist stuff”, a field in which I am still desperately catching up. (I’m apparently trying to finish books before I teach them, which is questionable pedagogic practice. I’m also looking forward to discovering how many of my students read this post when I get back to class and they call me on it.)

In terms of genre, not that much different from last year. Memoir is back, a few more short stories crept in and YA is climbing relative to novella-ette. Also I read poetry. It also somehow feels like I read more YA than I do and that’s either because I’m not as good at tagging as I think I am or because it’s a genre that is so hit or miss with me that it stands out more. Or both.

Realistically, this next section also suffers from erratic tagging because some things are tagged epic and fantasy, e.g., and so it’s not a percentage record, merely a record of how many books fell into that category

Well, I mean, I am consistent from year to year. Look at who’s topping the charts again. In new news, I’ve read nearly 40 romance novels this year, which is a notable increase and also tracks as I’ve starting branching out in the genre. Cynic that I am, it probably also explains the lower star rating for digital books since I mostly read romance in e-format. Not that romance novels don’t frequently get high ratings from me, but that in branching out and trying new authors, and without the network of recommenders who I know like what I like…and with my ongoing intolerance for obnoxious behavior on the parts of the heroes (except when I allow otherwise, naturally), it doesn’t entirely surprise me to find an effect.

Do I have the data to verify this? I mean, yes. Wait a minute. Okay, average romance is rated 3.51 so, you know, theory not entirely dismantled.

Also, I definitely read more things I consider to be theologically interesting than appear on this chart. Some of them are probably woven into Judaism and the fact that I don’t tag those as theology…well, there’s a conversation to be had about what precisely theology IS in Judaism (and that’s why I’m teaching this class).

Right, demography. I will say that for all that it’s not a large chart, it’s been one of the most formative aspects of my reading choices and I’ve discovered so many new amazing stories and read in genres I would never have otherwise because of this practice – first of tracking who I read and second of making sure that 1/3 of the books I read are by authors of color. And I’m so grateful to the indie bloggers and people on Twitter (who I now need to find again and hope are on Mastodon) and list-makers who advocate for these books.

Anyway, the ongoing growth in authors who are either nonbinary or genderqueer* is still really cool to see and, also, that drop from books to author means usually means I read a LOT of books by the same author in that category.

Once again, authors of color are at 35%, which is nice, and this time 2/5 of the books I’ve read were by authors of color, which means we’re back to more individual authors, but fewer repeats. I’m actually going to do a quick test and see how this goes. How many of this year’s authors were authors who I had read books by previously?

Okay, so 18 authors of color were authors who I had read books by before. And 33 of of the white authors were authors I’ve read before. Honestly, that more or less works out. So, no real distinction. Although I did learn that I’ve read 28 books by Lois McMaster Bujold over the course of my life, which feels like a pretty big amount.

Anyway, it’s 10:51 on my clock and we have the awards list to get to. Top ten books in no particular order, although I may get silly and give them titles like “Most likely to make you scream incoherently, but in a good way”.

…you know, come to think of it:

  • Most Likely to Make You Scream Incoherently, but in a Good Way
    Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble by Alexis Hall. So, first of all, this is the second book in a romance novel series that is shamelessly ripping off the Great British Bake Off and it’s genius, but what Hall does here is not just a cute love story (although also that) but an exploration of familiar romcom tropes that asks “yes, but what if this happens to real people” and that’s even leaving aside how he handles religious abstinence and it’s all just so good and then there’s the laser tag and the fish jokes and just. It deliberately doesn’t transcend its genre, but it sure hits the apex.
  • Most Likely to Make You Scream Incoherently, but with RAGE this time
    Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuang. This book is particularly resonant if you have a relationship with academia, but the way that Kuang reifies the effects of colonialism through an inherently fascinating linguistic magic system is just brilliant, She’s not particularly kind to her characters and thus, perforce, to her readers, but the story she tells is all the better for its willingness to be hard.
  • Best Costume and Design
    Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney. Wait, hear me out. This book is extravagant in a way that only Cooney can be. Everything is exuberant and a lot and if you secretly love the narrative voice of the Victorian novel and also necromancy, might I recommend this piece of magic?
  • Most Eloquent in its Spareness
    The Unbalancing by R. B. Lemberg. I raved about how Jewish this book is, not merely in scene-setting, but in its attitude towards diaspora and identity, but on top of that it’s an absolutely lovely story about what we do when we’re at a crossroads and heroism versus helping and it’s perfect and Lemberg’s work is always stunning and I can’t wait to read their upcoming book of poetry.
  • Best Doorstopper
    The Veiled Throne and Speaking Bones by Ken Liu. This is actually two, because the only reason they were separated is that you can’t sell a 2,000 page hardcover. If you look at the reading chart on the top of the page and see the massive jump in pages relative to books in May and October, that was because of these guys. But this entire series (of which these are the final two) is everything I want out of fantasy based in history. It’s like Neal Stephenson with someone around to do the endings. Also there are multiple wars going on and Liu manages to convince you for like 200 pages that the most important thing that could happen is someone inventing the technologically appropriate version of the Instant Pot and he’s RIGHT.
  • Best Book to Inspire Goodness
    Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks…but with Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer as a very strong contender. hooks is incredible when she talks about teaching and what it is to be in the classroom, to allow one’s body and identity into the room and to give her students the space to do the same. Her pedagogy is imbricated with her Blackness and she talks about both in a way that makes me excited to think of a world with teachers who have learned from her.
  • Most Niche Content that Everyone Should Enjoy
    Semicolon by Cecelia Watts. Yes, it’s a history of the semicolon. Yes, it’s super interesting even if you’re not a complete pedant. (Who, me?) and especially if you are. There’s so much cool history there and then the last chapter is just a mic drop.
  • Most Nourishing
    Koshersoul by Michael Twitty. I want to cook everything in this book and then read it again and laugh all over at the Tashlich section. Twitty’s Jewish journey is told with such a mix of joy and pain and strength and exuberance that it’s impossible not to find his narrative voice as sweet as the food his invites you to make.
  • Best Book that Walked Straight Out of My Nightmares
    The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. I read a surprising amount of horror this year, for someone who insisted for years that she doesn’t read it and nothing was as emotionally terrifying as Chan’s gentle parenting panopticon. It was so good. It was so scary. It was the intersection of the humanity of robots and the horrors of parenting and I literally could not put it down to go to bed because I didn’t dare sleep without finishing it.
  • Best Book That I Knew Would Be Good
    Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher. I love Kingfisher, she’s on this list every year and this year is no different. She has a knack for fairy tale – how the rules work and how they bend, but do not break when you make them personal and real and follow the conventions of modern fiction. Her worlds are not so much gruesome as unflinching and her protagonists are kind down to their bones in a way that is not always nice. She’s so good and I knew I would love this and I did.

So…I think if you count the bit where I shoved two extra books, that was twelve. It’s 11:30 and I had to physically stop myself from finishing a book earlier tonight because I have like 5% of it left, but then I would have to regenerate ALL the charts and under NO circumstances is that happening. So I’ll get a start on next year and thank you for 11 years of this madness!


*For those curious, I go by what the author uses on their website/wikipedia page. For those wondering about the difference, genderqueer is a term people use when their gender identity challenges gender binary. Non-binary is a subset of that category and is more specific for people who don’t fit in the gender binary at all.


Books of 2021

One of these days, I’m going to replace this ex-blog with an actual website and it’s going to have a blogging engine for the sole purpose of writing these posts once a year. And I am not going to be sorry.

Well, friends and mellogoths, I did it. I read 150 books in one year for the first time (since I started this year-end reckoning). 152, actually, but who’s counting?

(Me. I’m counting. I’m never not counting.)

So, first of all, I mentioned this last year, but I am extremely into The Storygraph as an independent website that tracks books, goals, and provides a LOT of data. I’m going to link to my stats page for those of you who want more info, such as the month in which I read the most books (July), the split between print, ebook, and audio, and how long all my books are.

Those, however, are not the stats I usually track. Before I dive in, though, I went meandering into the archives and discovered that the original end-of-year book post was written about the books of 2012. Twenty. Twelve.

I had been living in California for a little over a year at that point. I had not even thought about the possibility of rabbinical school because the first graduates of Maharat had not yet graduated. These two didn’t exist yet!

My sous chef and my taste tester

The persistence of the self—the way in which I never stopped being the person who wrote that first post even as I am a completely different person who is now writing this one on December 30th because I’m being proactive this year—is so striking in these moments. “Look at where you are. Look at where you started.” I’d leave off the end of the quote, but given the year we’ve had and the decade we’ve had, the fact that we are here and alive is a miracle. And part of the way that I not only celebrate my aliveness, but come to life is through reading.

I don’t just read because I need it, although I absolutely do need to read, I read because books are how I sing myself into being (to, umm, make the point by stealing an idea from a book). I me-ify myself through the books that resonate with me and that become a part of who I am—the top ten section, if you will—but I also become myself through the books that don’t stand out. The stats are just as much a part of the mix as the standouts. What I choose to read, how I feel about it, the authors and genres I gravitate towards, and the way that my reading has evolved (or stubbornly refused to, like a Pikachu without a Thunder Stone), are all part of the me-ification of me.

Also, and I cannot stress this enough, watching the counter go up on my reading goal brings me so much joy. I’ve given myself the best assignment ever and I know I’m going to get an A.

The books, on the other hand, do not get grade inflation. But this was a pretty good year for ratings, overall.

A pie chart showing the breakdown of books by percentages.
No rating - 3%
2 star - 2%
3 star - 26%
4 star - 55%
5 star - 14%
The Five Stars are making a comeback, I see

So my five stars went up significantly this year, 14% instead of 8%, and the four stars dropped accordingly. My two stars also went up, from under 1% to 2% so, you know, not the end of the world. Am I growing meaner or nicer?

Interestingly, that spike in fives seems to come from nonfiction. I don’t read a lot of it, well, except relative to how much I read last year, but I do tend to really enjoy what I read. And it’s a mix of first-time authors and old favorites in the fives, which is always reassuring. I get antsy if it doesn’t seem like new authors are catching my eye and my heart.

A pie chart showing the years in which the books I read this year were published.
2021 - 34%
2020 - 26%
2019 - 11%
2018 - 9%
And then everything else is 2% and 1% with a few years from the 00s, 1990s, and earlier included. Earliest year is 1940
Something new, something new, lots of things borrowed from the library, and something blue

This chart looks pretty much the same every year. I mean, the last quarter of it has the years wander around based on what I’m into at the moment, but I mostly read things as they come out and spend the first half of the year frantically trying to get to everything I missed the year before, at least until the new books avalanche on in. I lament the size of my to-be-read pile and also I love it beyond reason. I mostly tried to avoid rereads this year—a few snuck in anyway—but also it was a good year for finding books that made me happy so I didn’t feel that desperate need to read something where I already know the ending, but also kind of forgot the particulars of the ending.

A donut chart (a pie chart with a hole in the middle) with information about types of books. The majority are novels at 60%, then nonfiction at 18%, ya at 11%, and novellas and novelettes at 8%

And my percentage of novels read dropped by 10 and went straight into the lap of nonfiction. That’s a significant change from last year. Last year I read 8 works of nonfiction. This year I read 28.

I think some of it comes from finally graduating school, (I know, I’m honestly shocked about it as well,) and so I need to find new ways to continue learning things that interest me. Like a history of swearing. Or of corpses.

I also started trying to read more books that are thinking about theology and the work of being religious. It’s not that this topic is new to me; it’s merely that I’m finding either the world to be larger or my knowledge to be smaller than I expected and I just want to know more about how other people are experiencing the divine. And the quotidian. And everything in between. Look, I just want to knoooow.

Ahh yes, the only reminder of the existence of the rectangle that I will allow

One of these days, this will be a log graph instead so it looks less absurd. I love the fact that there are 25 romances and 25 historicals and while I’m pretty sure they’re not all the same books, there’s definitely overlap. Yes, there are more books here than total books; a book can fall into multiple genres so there are 25 books I would categorize as romance but some are also historical and some are also science fiction. The goal is to see what genres caught my attention. It’s always interesting to see whether sf meaning science fiction or sf meaning speculative fiction is ahead. (San Francisco is unwelcome at the acronym party.)

Two non-cookbooks about cooking is pretty interesting. So is that baby interest in memoir that shows up every year and never grows, but never goes away. The genre entitled books, incidentally, means books about the material history of the codex or the publishing history of a particular text or genre.

In some ways I’m most interested by the 1s. Are they actually 1s or the artifact of my deeply unscientific tagging process? (The answer is yes, of course.)

So, one of the cool things this chart on the left shows is an increase in authors who publicly identify as non-binary. There are five books by non-binary individuals on this list, some of whom were on previous lists and some of whom were on previous lists, but has not yet come out as non-binary. I dunno, it’s not a lot yet, but it’s such a noticeable shift especially since I don’t set out to read books based on the author’s gender.

This is the fourth year in a row that I explicitly said that 1/3 of all books I read will be by Authors of Color. And, funnily enough, 35% is the highest I’ve ever actually gotten and also this is the first year that I had over 1/3 for books and fewer than 1/3 for authors. Usually I have a higher percentage of Authors of Color relative to books, which can be interpreted two ways. 1) I read more widely among Authors of Color than white authors or 2) I am less likely to read multiple books by Authors of Color. It’s kind of both, although I do end up reading more debut Authors of Color, which means they don’t have a backlist for me to fall down. This year, my top two authors, at least in terms of number of their books that I read, were Authors of Color. Which is, honestly, the best way possible to mess up the graph. The only reason it frustrates me is that I feel like I should be able to have both – over 1/3 and backlist rabbit holes. Something to strive for next year, I think.

So, time for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality book selection. Top ten, all genres together, go big or go home and get more books and then go big again.

  • Burning Roses by S. L. Huang. This is a gorgeous little novella about the past confronting the present and the choices we make over and over again, set against the backdrop of some of my favorite fairy tales of all time. It was perfect and I couldn’t believe it was over.
  • Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell. I had been looking forward to this book for years because it is exactly what I want out of a space opera romance. Look, the thing with books is they either need to meet or defy expectations. Maxwell meets every single expectation with flair and the delighted knowledge that she is writing exactly the kind of book that someone looking for “disaster space princes romance” would enjoy.
  • Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher. I have an essay currently marinating about Kingfisher’s paladins as complicated, but overall compelling representations of religious faithfulness and devotion in a way that fantasy rarely gets right. There’s something here about dead gods and second naivete, but honestly, you could come for the quest, stay for the banter, and never even enter into the theological because you’re too busy giggling at the canoodling. This is another romance novel, although this one upends the genre even as it remains entirely faithful to its conceits. What I said about meeting or defying expectations? Kingfisher does both.
  • The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg. Lemberg is interested in the narratives of age, the lives that we build for ourselves after, rather than before. They set their stories in a complicated world with a deep sense of history, but the tale itself comes around again and again to the story of what it means to rebuild and re-hope.
  • What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon. The hardest part of this book was that the audiobook wasn’t read by Gordon and, since I listen to her podcast, I kept thinking “Oh, wait, Aubrey has a story like this…no, this is Aubrey”. It’s not a happy book, nor is it a particularly reassuring book. But it’s a good book to get angry with and a deeply necessary book, both in how it addresses what the research says about weight and the how it exposes the ways in which we as a culture have persistently lied to ourselves and to those who are most vulnerable in the name of false health ideals.
  • A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark. Sometimes a book just does everything so well. The story is fun, the worldbuilding is beautiful, the mystery is compelling and the characters are delightful. Clark has written a top-notch fantasy novel and I really just loved it.
  • Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch. This book is amazing. There is a part of my mind that just believes that everything, even if it doesn’t precisely make sense, can be studied and understood. McCulloch does that with how internet language evolves and functions as a form of communication and, while I imagine it would be fun even for people less internetted than I am, I particularly appreciated her ability to provide context, nuance, and meaning with more than dash of humor to the memes of my young adulthood.
  • Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis. Given the choice between chocolate and vanilla, I choose vanilla. Between Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and I choose Charlotte. Between the two great Inklings, C. S. Lewis and his friend who never finishes anything, the great John Ronald Reuel Tolkien…JRRT all the way. Which is why it stunned me how much I not merely appreciated, but loved this book. It’s complicated, as so much of his work is, by Lewis’s writing of women—albeit so much less than Narnia—but oh, the story it tells about what it means to encounter the numinous is beautiful. The irony of Tolkien calling Lewis a hater of myths when this is what the man can produce. That atmosphere he was trying to create with The Last Battle…he gets it here.
  • Praying with Jane Eyre: Reflections on Reading as a Sacred Practice by Vanessa Zoltan. I…feel like I should be allowed to just point to the title in answer to the question of why is this book on this list. I just…she concretized for me so many floating ideas I’ve had about the relationship between reading and religion and the way that books become meaningful and how we relate to the sacred. Of course I loved it. How could I not? How could I remain me and not love this book?
  • The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker. The sequel to The Golem and the Jinni, Wecker comes back to answer the question “when we find ourselves, what do we find on the other side”. The titular golem and jinni are both brilliant characters, particularly in how they balance each other, but it’s Wecker’s ability to ask “what makes us human” using the fantastical non-human that makes these books an aching joy to read.

Are we going up to 11 this time? Apparently this IS spinal tap.

  • The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective by Joy Ladin. Ladin’s book is something of an exception, although not entirely, because I did love it and it belongs on the list. Part of why her writing strikes such a chord with me is how she models writing from a marginalized perspective and how identity and stance are not a barrier to theology and thinking about God, but a form of access.

Alright. 10 years, a top ten list with 11 entries, and 152 books. It’s been yet another YEAR and thank goodness for the books and the people who got us through it.

Books of 2020

It’s that time of year again. The time when I give thanks for my password manager because otherwise I would NEVER be able to log back in to this site. And, well, it’s the end of 2020.

There’s a Jewish liturgical poem that many of my friends have been quoting, which comes originally from the Talmud on the topic of when we read the verses with curses. We read the curses at the end of the year שתכלה שנה וקללותיה, that the year and its curses pass from us. So say we all.

But it’s still the end of the year and so it’s time for me to look back on what I’ve read. Despite the #flamingdumpsterfire that was 2020, I managed to read 137 books this year!

That’s two fewer than last year.

In my defense, not only was it 2020, I also had another kid. The last time that happened I went down by ~40 books, so a drop of 2 is a SIGNIFICANT improvement. I guess it’s true that kid 2 is way easier to get used to than kid 1.

A smiling baby is looking up from a forest-themed playmate. The baby has serious cheeks.
Hello world!

But you aren’t here for pictures of babies, you’re here for graphs! (Or you put up with the graphs to get to the book recommendations, I don’t judge). So let’s take a look at what this year was like in reading. Let’s start, first and foremost, with the pie chart of ratings. How many stars would you give each slice of this pie?

A pie chart with 5 stars at 12 books, 4 stars at 88 books, 3 stars at 32 books, 2 stars at 1 book, and Unrated at 4 books.
Well, at least there aren’t any books as bad as the year…

So definitely fewer 5s than last year. *shakes fist at book list* Although, if memory serves, last year was something of an anomaly and so this might be a regression towards the mean. And 12 books isn’t bad at all. As usual, 4 stars is my biggest category. I also had a few more three stars than last year and fewer two stars. And fewer unrated books, which just means less theory. Not a bad year, overall.

Next, we have the books by year published chart. How new was my reading?

A donut shaped pie chart counting down from 2020. There are 44 books in the 2020 section, 35 in the 2019 section, 13 in raw 2018 section and it goes down from there. The oldest book I read was published in 1930.
Nouveau Read strikes again!

Again, this looks pretty similar to last year. Despite being cut off from the physical library for a significant amount of time *shakes fist again, just because*, I still managed to read 44 books published this year. Look, has a LOT of my money at this point. And my kindle has been an invaluable companion. His name is Boromir. (Yes, of course I’m serious.) Alas, since I don’t usually track how I read my books, I don’t know if I actually read more on the kindle this year or not, but I will definitely add this to my “reasons having ebooks available is a good thing” list. Unlike last year, though, this is pretty 21st century. That long tail into the 30s you see was when I decided to reread Dorothy Sayers over Passover. Actually, most of the older books were rereads, which makes this chart *gasp* inaccurate.

Okay, spoiler alert, 137 is not actually the number of books I’ve read this year. Around June, when I was getting into my third trimester and the library hadn’t reopened for physical books yet, I found I was doing a lot of rereading. So I made a “No more rereads for the reading goal” rule that I faithfully stuck to. That didn’t stop me from rereading, especially after child the second was born and I didn’t have enough brain to read anything new while getting no sleep. (I still get a less than optimum quantity of sleep, but since the child is a champion sleeper, it’s all my fault.) But I did not count those towards the goal. You’d probably see some more stuff from the 80s and 90s there if I had. For what it’s worth, if I took out all the rereads from the beginning, I would be at 117. But I usually do count rereads and, when I’d read the ones in the beginning of the year, I had intended to count them and, as we all know, it’s your intention (the Hebrew word is כוונה) that determines whether a book counts towards the reading goal.

Moooooving on. Next up are the genre sections, including both definitions of genre. First, we’ll look at genre meaning kind of book and then we’ll look at genre meaning where it would be shelved in the bookstore.

Another pie chart. Novel is 70%, novella is 8%, nonfiction is 7%, Short story collection and memoir are both 1% and YA is 13%
A suffusion of blue

Unsurprisingly, most of what I read was novel-length fiction. No children’s literature this year, although more YA than last year. Fewer short stories, but more non-academic nonfiction. But it still looks like a blue Pacman is about to pull a rainbow scarf out of his mouth.

Ugh, so I can never decide how to deal with the genre graph because arbitrarily saying that each book only has one genre is disingenuous and just counting books with multiple genres twice throws off the pie chart so we’re going to go with a bar chart this year, with the caveat that this chart tells you the number of books I read this year that could be classified, albeit not exclusively, in a specific genre. You’ll see historical is a genre and it’s one that almost never stands alone. It goes with mystery or romance or fantasy. But it’s helpful, e.g., to see how many books I read this year that were set, by the authors, in the past.

I’m sorry, every other orientation for the labels was actually unreadable. This one just requires you to turn your head sideways as if you were eating a taco.

Tag yourself, I’m superhero theology.

“One of these things is not like the other”. Look, if the year ever comes when fantasy is not far and away the largest block on here, assume I’ve been kidnapped by aliens and I’m trying to send a distress code by doing something incredibly out of character. A few fewer sci-fi books this year, a few more fantasies and romances, mysteries have jumped on to the field after being entirely absent last year (and I believe this was due entirely to Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels and Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock books. More on those later). And gothic is back because I love it so.

And, as always, accountability time. Aside from the fact that I really love writing this post, knowing that I will end the year with a graph of how many Authors of Color I read this year is really helpful motivation to make that graph into something I’m willing to stand behind.

One thing I will say, it’s getting easier to find books by People of Color (hence POC) just by reading “most anticipated” lists or “everything come out this month” posts. It takes some effort for me to get to my 33%, which I still feel like is such a low bar despite it taking work. But I’m more likely to just open my “to read” list and see a number of books by POCs and, when I started this project in…oh goodness, 2016, that was not the case.

Two pie charts. The first is racial diversity by books and consists of 34% of books I read are by Authors of Color and 66% are by white authors. The second is racial diversity by authors and 38% of the authors that I read were Authors of Color and 62% were white authors.
Why is there a scribble in the background? I don’t even know anymore.

I’ve achieved my goals, which is awesome. And, as usual, the numbers look slightly different when you count authors rather than books. That either means I seek out more POC authors, or that POC authors are less likely to have major back catalogs that I can get lost in…or that the bit where I reread everything Megan Whalen Turner wrote this year and all of of Tamora Pierce’s Emelan books is skewing the data. But I am, overall, pretty pleased both with the metrics themselves and with the books I discovered this year.

And, for comparison, let’s look at gender.

Two pie charts again. The first says books by gender and is 82% women, 17% men and 1% non-binary. The second says authors by gender and is 77% women, 21% men, and 2% non-binary
Is anyone surprised?

So, apparently men went from 33% of my reading last year to less than 20%. I imagine some of that came from not really doing that much academic reading this year. And some of it is that there are fewer male authors who move me to track down everything they’ve written. And I checked how many authors I read more than one book by this year. There were 22 authors total. 2 of them were men. 6 of them were POC.

Incidentally, if you like this number thing, my illustrious sister introduced me to The Storygraph, which does some of this kind of data crunching for you (but not all the stuff that I’m interested in and also I love fighting with Numbers when it’s 90 minutes to midnight and I’m begging it to please spit out a graph that makes sense). So if you want to see more of my reading collection there, feel free to check it out.

I will add, also, that their recommendation engine looks excellent and like it’s more likely to uncover hidden gems than Goodreads, but I’ll report back. The one thing they will not let you do is export all your data into a spreadsheet, which is unfortunate because that’s what lets me do this.

Okay, time for the countdown of the best books, but in no particular order. Imagine me standing here yelling random numbers during the ten seconds to midnight while the ball drops in Times Square, it’s like that.

Incidentally, did you see what Times Square looks like this year:

Anyway, here we go!

  • A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas. This is the first in Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series, all five of which I read this year. I found them because I really like the voice of the audiobook narrator who reads them (Kate Reading) from other books, so I figured I would try them out. Look, I read fast. I don’t usually read audiobooks fast, but I think I finished each and every one of these in two days. Thomas doesn’t write “Sherlock, but a lady”. Instead, she imagines what kind of person and world would be necessary for a woman to do what Sherlock Holmes does and builds something really interesting out of that.
  • The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. The Queen’s Thief series was one of those that I missed as a kid and that a number of people raved about as being fabulous. I’m usually leery of such recommendations because sometimes books that we fall in love with as kids just don’t hold up for people who encounter them for the first time as adults. That’s not true in this case, I reread the whole series in preparation for this, the final book (and then discovered it had been pushed back to the end of the year) and it did not disappoint.
  • Piranesi by Susannah Clarke. The first thing Clarke wrote was the monumental monstrosity Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. In some ways, people’s reaction to this book depended on how much they expected it to be like that book. It isn’t, although Clarke is still an extraordinary wordsmith and the atmosphere of the book is gorgeous and evocative. Come for the statuary, stay for the mystery.
  • You Look Like a Thing and I Love You by Janelle Shane. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I periodically post about neural networks doing weird things and, when I do, it’s almost always the work of Janelle Shane. Her book on Artificial Intelligence is clever, informative, and laugh out loud funny, which I should have known it would be and yet still made the mistake of reading it while holding a sleeping baby. Baby was no longer asleep by the time I was able to stop giggling.
  • The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley. I adored her first book, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and this book is a direct sequel. Definitely read that one first, but this book is basically everything I want out of my speculative fiction grounded in history.
  • Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin. I read Austen retellings even though I usually grumpily nitpick them to pieces because of books like this. Jalaluddin knows that you don’t want to remake Pride and Prejudice, you want to take the ideas that shape it and bring those ideas to a new milieu and let the story unfold. In particular, her Darcy character is a brilliant adaptation.
  • The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin. The greatest living author of speculative fiction wrote a love letter to New York City. What more can I say?
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Moreno-Garcia has written other books, but this was her breakout success and with good reason. It’s the book that got me back into reading creepy gothic stories. It’s perfectly done, managing to simultaneously embrace the gothic as a genre and critique it and its regressive elements at the same time. And Moreno-Garcia makes it look easy.
  • The House by the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Clune. This book is basically like a warm hug for everyone who grew up reading British children’s literature. Sometimes it’s not about flights of genius, but about being a blanket in book form and Clune delivers with a story about finding families, finding yourself, and doing what is right.
  • The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley. This is, frankly, Hurley’s most readable book yet (and if this is the only book of hers you’ve ever read and you’re making a face like *you’re kidding me!?* at me right now, yep!) and she basically takes on the entire genre of military sf here. The more you know about the genre, the more you can can recognize the way she’s in conversation with a lot of simplistic attitudes about interstellar war and good and evil. This is sci-fi at it’s finest – reflecting back on itself and looking forward at the same time.

(And one runner-up because it was really hard to leave it off.)

  • Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. You might be forgiven for thinking that this book is, in fact, four fanfiction tropes stacked on top of each other in a trenchcoat. It is, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s sweet and fun and funny and Hall is just hilarious when he’s writing romance. If you liked Red, White, and Royal Blue, I have a feeling this will delight you.

Alright, my friends, my foes, and my fellow citizens of the world. It’s 11:45, 2020 is drawing to a close and so I will end with words of wisdom from someone I greatly esteem.

*mic drop*

Books of 2019

You know, I’ve heard people do things like go out with friends and celebrate on New Years. This is the fifth year in a row I’m writing a blog post filled with charts about my reading.

Well, I am nothing if not on brand.

So here we are, 2019! By dint of effort (yes I powered through a book today, why do you ask?), I tied last year’s Goodreads count of 139. Despite saying last year that I was never going to break 100 books again. Despite setting my goal at 110. Maybe I should be braver next year.

But who cares about quantity? We do, obviously, or else we wouldn’t be making charts! Now let’s see what we can learn about these words I consumed on a page/screen/audio-device.

We begin with the all-important rating chart, also known as “how much did I enjoy my books?”

Books by Rating

That’s a LOT of 5s, especially for me. Either I had a very good year or a year of being very easy to please. Probably both. Perhaps I gravitated towards books I really knew I would like. Perhaps I was more generous. Perhaps I’ve lowered my standards. Who, really, could know? But isn’t this what we want from our reading? It does ruin my veneer of picky and hard to please critic, but then I’ve scratched that veneer off so badly you can barely see it anymore. And it’s been a very long time since I disliked a book to rate it one star. Nor did I DNF (did not finish) anything this year, although it may be more accurate to say that I’m still dreaming of finishing those books…one day. (Yes, for those of you at home doing the math, the spreadsheet has a different book count than the Goodreads counter. No, I don’t know why, given that this data comes straight from Goodreads. And I am way too tired to figure it out.)

Onto the next chart! This one looks at how many books I’ve read from a given year.

Books by Year Published

(Why are charts so ugly? Why isn’t data beautiful? Why don’t I start this before 9pm on the 31st?)

As usual, my top two years were this year and last year. Although, unlike last year, this year edged out in terms of plurality this year. (The management would like to apologize for that sentence.) And both the 19th and 20th centuries are better represented this year than last year. I had assumed that was because of all the theory I’d been reading, but honestly, it seems mostly the fault of Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler and JRR Tolkien. And, as we know, blaming Tolkien is always the correct move. It is nicer to see a longer long tail into history, though.

Next, we look at genre. As with last year, the first chart breaks it down by kind of book while the second breaks it down by genre as style. (If you click on the images, I promise you will see them more clearly.)

Interestingly, the breakdown of novel compared to everything else and fantasy compared to everything else has remained pretty stable. The content has altered since I seem to have read more academic stuff this year, which has just eaten into the numbers for everything else. Romance count remains the same, which I find shocking because it feels like there were a few months there where all I was reading was romance, but maybe that happened last year too.

I checked last year’s blog post. It totally did. Cool.

As for diverse reading – here, let me recount my failings. I was not as good this year as last year. Another thing my theory reading ate into was commitment to having 1/3 of the books I read each year be by people of color. The reason I spend so much time on this particular statistic is because it is, overall, the thing that I know falls aside if I just “read what comes my way”. If I don’t actively seek out books by authors of color, I find my reading list gets very white and finding new and interesting and diverse stories makes us better humans so I try. Anyway, here’s the chart.

Racial Diversity by Books

As you can see, I’m at 32% and 68%. So, um, not as bad as I thought. But also not there yet  either. Some of that is just a numbers game where even if I’m off, I’m not off by very much percentage-wise. But it still feels like I haven’t quite gotten there.

Interestingly, the chart of authors skews just a bit north of 33%.

Racial Diversity by Author

Which means that I’m far more likely to have read multiple books by a white author OR that I’m more likely to have sought out new authors of color. Probably both. Also, I tend to read romances by finding an author I like and then inhaling their backlist, so I imagine that skewed some of the data. To say nothing of the amount of Tolkien I read. (It occurs to me that this list may not include my audio reread of Lord of the Rings. It occurs to me that I might have left that out on purpose.)

I’m actually leaving out gender this year because I don’t expect it to be very interesting. The theorist will skew male, the romance writers female and so, as they say, it goes. My guess is probably around 60% women or non-binary authors…okay, I checked because people notoriously overestimate the number of women they read. It’s at 33% and 67% for male and female/NB respectively. Huh. Again, pretty close to last year.

So, here we are. We’re at the end of the year. The books have been read, the stats have been stat-ed, I am not sure how much I learn about myself every time I do this anymore, but boy is the accountability helpful. And it’s 44 minutes to midnight so lets count down the unordered list of top ten books I read this year!

  • The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie. Leckie is incredible and also a deeply strange writer. I find that those two do not always go together and authors who are invested in having me constantly thinking and asking questions don’t always write books that enrapture. Leckie does. Please read this book – to describe this Shakespearean masterpiece would be to ruin it.
  • Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi by MaNishtana. Another brilliant book that is sad and funny and deeply relatable on so many levels and also, at the same time, achingly aware of the distance between the main character (and the author) and the rest of the Jewish community. Ariel Samson is a millennial black rabbi in need of job and finding one is just the beginning of the adventure. It’s beautiful, it made me want to cry, it made me laugh out loud, it made me want to yell profanity at someone whose name rhymes with Hov Dikind. Definitely read it.
  • Educated by Tara Westover. The internet can tell you just how amazing this book is, so let me just fall in line with the rest and say, yes, it’s THAT good.
  • The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall. In the eldritch, dark squamous recesses of your heart, haven’t you always wondered what Sherlock Holmes would be like set in one of Lovecraft’s strange universes, except without Lovecraft’s blatant prejudices and with the sense that everyone is having a pretty good time with the mind-bending dimensionality of it all? Oh, and Sherlock is a woman. I particularly recommend the audiobook because it was excellent, but also this book was weird and wonderful and I hope I’m not the only person who thinks the premise and execution are both delightful.
  • Babel-17 by Samuel Delany. While we’re on the topic of audiobooks, I finally got into Delany, who melts my brain when I tried to parse his text, by listening to him. Some of that might be the dulcet tones of Stefan Rudnicki, but some of that might also be the difference in how I process and expect to understand information. If I don’t try to understand what is going on and just let it happen to my ears, I find that Delany makes much more sense and the story itself grows into something fascinating. Delany was one of the first to treat the social sciences like the hard sciences in SF and he’s still a grandmaster of the genre.
  • The Obligated Self: Maternal Subjectivity and Jewish Thought by Mara Benjamin. I don’t usually rate theory and I especially don’t usually rate theory high (because theorists are not necessarily engaging writers…). but Benjamin’s book was interesting and crunchy in all the right ways and drew out ideas in Judaism that felt both utterly integral and also like no one was talking about them. But she is. And now hopefully I will be. You should be too.
  • Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang. Chiang is the best. His short work is exquisite and there is always something in his collections that grabs my mind and just won’t let it go. I’d read “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” before, but it was even better the second time and I feel like it should be a yearly Elul read. And his take on time travel was just so good.
  • Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney. Cooney is another of my “buy on-sight” authors, so perhaps it’s convenient for my wallet that her output is on the small side. What she does here with the realms of faerie is nothing short of genius and the extravagance of her language just works for it. (She and Cat Valente fill a specific niche of authors entitled to have their writing run toward the sesquipedalian.)
  • There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon. Okay so YA romance is still sometimes jam, but doesn’t necessarily make it to the top ten list. But what Menon does here (aside from cleverly reworking Hollywood film titles) with a protagonist who is fit, fat, and utterly done with her family trying to shame her into skinniness is just gorgeous. Menon talks about giving Sweetie all the words she wished she could have said and it is the best thing in the world to read them.
  • Tree and Leaf by JRR Tolkien. It was honestly a toss-up between this and Tales from the Perilous Realm, but this one wins out by a hair even though Tolkien’s earlier stories set in versions of our world are brilliant. But his essay “On Fairy Stories” is one of my favorites and “Leaf by Niggle” is a stupendous allegory (by, of course, the man who famously claimed to cordially dislike allegory) about life and art and making and what we do when we create worlds for others and I love it to pieces.

And there you have a top ten list, which I agonized over because there were other books that felt like they belonged up there too, but then we would never end, would we?

Alright dear friends. To a new year in which we visit strange new worlds, meet extraordinary new people, learn incredible new things, and maybe even put down the book once in a while.

Books of 2018

So this is later than I intended because I had this dream of finishing all the books I’m in the middle of and including them as well…but alas, they will have to be the first books of 2019 and, you know, I’m okay with that.

Also new, my Goodreads counter and my Goodreads export disagree on how many books I’ve read this year. The former says 139 and the latter says 141. I really wanted to break 140, so I’m going with the latter (and, also, it’s what I have for all the stats, so let’s go with it).

141 books. That’s basically back up to pre-parenting levels and a significant amount of that was from summer vacation when I was doing nothing. That is to say, I’m convinced this was a fluke and I’m not going to break 100 next year.

So let’s look at the stats.

First, how much did I enjoy myself?


A pie chart of books arranged by rating. 7 “5 star” books, 81 “4 star” books, 47 “3 star” books, 4 “two star” books, and 2 unrated books.

So I had a good year. Not quite as many five star books as last year, but the ratio of four star to three star books remained about the same and that’s usually the best marker of how much I enjoyed my reading. Double the amount of two star books, though. Which is probably a good thing – it’s a sign I’m branching out.

Onto the next category: when were these books published?

Year Published

A pie chart of when the books were published. 1/4 in 2018, 1/3 in 2017, another 1/4 between 2016 and 2012 and the last little bits range back to 1957, but cluster in the 80s.

So, weirdly, the plurality of books I read this year were published in 2017 and not 2018. Some of that was undoubtedly “Hugo Awards” reading and some was probably just catching up on my to-read list. But that’s an interesting change from last year, when nearly half the book I read were published in 2017. You would think my 2017 to-read list would have gotten smaller than it has. (Yes, I divide my TBR lists by year to keep them from overwhelming me. It doesn’t work.)

I’m doing genre slightly differently this year, given the slipperiness of genre as a category – does it define the tropes that go into creating the story or the kind of book it is? Is YA a genre in a different way than fantasy is a genre?

I decided it was so I made two charts. Because I’m like that.


Two donut charts, one divided by “kind” that is predominantly fiction with some ya, nonfiction, and novella included; and the other divided by “genre” and predominantly fantasy, with sf and spec-fic right behind and historical romance after that.

Anyway, these charts feel arbitrary, but no more arbitrary than any other genre and it gives me a sense of how I read. More nonfiction this year than last. And the fantasy to everything else ratio still pretty high. Also, please note the moment in the summer when I went on a historical romance tear while visiting Paris. Je ne regret rien.

Playing with genre is always interesting, but moreso because it illuminates the ways in which categorizing “this/not that” is impossible. I could either allow for overlapping genres or keep the numbers reasonable. So I spend a while trying to decide whether books I tagged as “fantasy” and “romance” were more one or the other. Anyway, genre. Even computers are terrible at it.

As I said I would do last year, I put significant effort into reading diversely. My goal was 1/3 of the authors I read should be authors of color.


A bar chart comparing books by white authors and authors of color. There’s 2:1 ratio of books by white authors to those by authors of color and slightly more white authors than authors of color.

And I did it. Slightly over 1/3 of the books I read were by authors of color. And nearly half of the authors I read were authors of color. (What this means, actually, is that there were a few white authors–all women–who I read like half of their oeuvre this year. That means I read more widely among authors of color, but it also means that I didn’t go on a ridiculous “must read everything this person has ever written right now” for any authors of color. So, you know, good and bad.

Just for the record, my gender breakdown is even less even.


Another bar chart showing authorial gender. There are 4x the number of female authors to male authors, plus 1 book by multiple authors and 2 books by non-binary individuals.

Wow. I’m used to the 2:1 for women compared to men, but this is closer to 4:1. Umm, okay. Let’s…see what happens (as Gregor Vorbarra would say).

There’s this interesting problem where, in working against the grain, I run the risk of deliberately missing out on really good books by white, male authors. Which is a shame, but not a systemic problem. Me taking a while and just not getting around to the book might mean I’m missing out, but it won’t matter for their career or the larger field. And it’s the systemic effects of reading, promoting, and generally talking about books by marginalized authors that I think is so important.

And that’s the other thing. This took work! I spent a lot of time (mostly on Twitter) following up on recommendations and seeking diverse authors and making sure I had something to read next that would let me hit the balance I was looking for. It’s possible that part of why my book count was so high this year was because I needed to read a certain number of books in order to get to some books I wanted to read.

I recognize the fact that I have, to a degree, turned reading into homework may not appeal to everyone, although I would also remind my readers of my devotion to staying in school, so possibly the homework is a feature and not a bug.

In any event, let’s get to the fun bit. Top ten books of the year, in no particular order.

  • The Changeling by Victor LaValle. If you’ve heard me yell about a book on Twitter this year, it was probably this book. I love LaValle’s writing style, I love the way he twists the familiar and finds a very contemporary horror that then intertwines so neatly with old, old fairy stories. It’s not entirely clear what kind of book it is, other than one that stays with the reader for a very long time.
  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. Not only did I read a cookbook, I placed it on my top ten list. I adore Nosrat’s approach to food and cooking, her commitment to knowing how to get things right, and the palpable excitement on every page that “you’re cooking food and it’s amazing!” Both ridiculously informative and a fun read, this is a book that is just going to live on my kitchen counter.
  • Eat Up: Food, Appetite, and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh. I’ve been slowly tracking down books by GBBO (Great British Bake Off) contestants because they are awesome and the show remains a delight. Tandoh’s book is about exactly what it says and, despite my existential concerns (two books about cooking in the top ten? Who am I?), I found every page of her slightly rambly, conversational, meticulously researched, and gloriously earnest–even when sarcastic–book to be a satisfying treat. It’s everything I ever wanted to be told about food.
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. Fairy tales, Jewish moneylenders as heroines, magic, wits, even a bit of true love. What more could you ask for?
  • The Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler. Wexler sticks the landing on his five book series about battles, demons, and basically everything I love about A Song of Ice and Fire, but with a tightly woven narrative arc, compelling and fully realized characters, and just enough of the sense that these are good people trying to do their best under impossible circumstances to keep me devoted with every installment released.
  • Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng. Ng’s debut novel is imperfect, but it’s also gloriously gothic and everything my Jane Eyre, 19th century Romantic little heart could want.
  • Swordheart by T. Kingfisher (a.k.a. Ursula Vernon). I think Vernon’s a genius at writing practical, hopeful characters of exactly the sort I think should be in charge of the world, or at least my corner of it. The blend of sense and nonsense that permeate her books remind me of Terry Pratchett–given the absurd constraints of this universe, what must I do to do right?
  • Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore. Continuing the theme of “ugh, this book is weird, but I love it so much!” Cashore’s progressively stranger experiment with genre can come off as either silly or pointless, but I found it to be neither and appreciated the multitude of layers Cashore used to build the story.
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay. This book is sort of a flip of Nosrat and Tandoh’s book, but also just a gorgeous memoir of Gay’s life and everyone should read it.
  • Witchmark by C.L. Polk. I love a good late Victorian/Edwardian magic story and did this one ever hit the spot. Sometimes it’s all about seeing a genre I like particularly well executed and this book was exactly that for me.

Well there we are. 10 books, lots of ratings, and a hope for a year as full of literature as this one. With apologies to all the books that didn’t make it on the list, especially the series that were individually fun, but added up over the course of the books. And all the light fare that got me through reading slumps and tired days that was also secretly complicated and filled with interesting ideas. Thank you, books. You’re the best.

Books of 2017

My new year’s resolution is to migrate all the material on this blog to my actual site and maybe even format it so it both looks professional and is up to date. By the time I finish updating my online presence to where I am now, I will be somewhere else, right?

But you’re not here for that, you’re here for the books. Feel free to scroll down past all the data if all you care about is the Top Ten List.

In my third year as a parent, I finally broke 100 again! Thank goodness for’s novella series. This year I read 118 books and, honestly, I think I did a pretty good job. Let’s see.

Ratings 2017

Ratings Pie Chart. 8% 5 star, 57% 4 star, 33% 3 star, and 2% 2 star.

Apparently I really liked my books this year. The 4 star books significantly outnumbered 3 star books and, even when accounting for the fact that Goodreads now allows you to add rereads (which I mostly refrained from doing), I read more 5 star books this year that I had in a while. And three of those books were by authors I had not read before, which is always reassuring.

Publication Year 2017

Pie Chart of publication year. 80% of the books I read this year were published in the last three years and half of those books were published in 2017.

Turns out my current reading remains extremely current. I think this is the most recent recently read selection I’ve managed in a while. Maybe next year’s resolution – make a dent in my books before 2015 TBR pile.

For the next few charts, the Y axis (which is unlabeled, I know, I’m sorry!) refers to number of books.

Genre 2017

A bar chart of all the genres I read this year. Fantasy is ahead by a landslide, followed by science fiction, followed by speculative fiction. I have a type.

I realize there is something specious in breaking fantasy out into historical, fairytale, epic, and not otherwise specified because it makes it look like I’ve read less fantasy than I have. That’s not the point; I read a LOT of fantasy and I revel in it. (I feel like I need to start linking to previous posts on the subject). But they are different subgenres in my my mind and they are distinct enough to warrant their own Goodreads categories. This invites a conversation about whether fantasy–and speculative fiction more broadly are a kind of story or a setting for a story. The obvious answer is that they are both and an author can use the narrative conventions of the genre outside of a fantastic setting and end up with historical fantasy or, instead, take a fantasy setting and impose a police procedural on it. One could twist Samuel Delany’s definition of science fiction to give fantasy primacy of place and argue that all fiction is fantasy and realist fiction is just fantasy with very little imagination… I have my biases, same as everyone else.

Genre II 2017

A bar chart of all the genres I read this year, with genre defining the kind of book – novel, poetry, story collection, young adult – rather than the theme.

I’ve added a new category this year and it’s all’s fault. They’ve been publishing really excellent novellas and they’re kinda the perfect length to devour in one sitting. So in the interest of quantifying all the things, here is the genre breakdown according to a radically different definition of genre. I’m not sure what it says, other than that I would have passed last year’s book count even without including the novellas, which I find validating indeed.

Diversity Statistics 2017

A bar chart of the diversity of my book selections. Women outnumber men 3.3:1 and white people outnumber people of color 2.65:1. One person identifies as non-binary.

Okay, this time the Y axis is unlabeled for a reason. It’s because it refers to number of authors read in dark blue and total number of books read in lighter blue. As usual the women dominated and also dominated rereads. (A large light blue block means I read multiple books by a single author, although Lois McMaster Bujold and Megan Whalen Turner are outliers and they skew the results.) On the bright side, you can tell that I took my resolution to read more people of color seriously this year since this is the first year that more than a quarter of the books I’ve read were by people of color. I am aiming for one third for next year. Not counting the one reread that snuck its way in there, one half of my 5 star books from this year were by people of color. So the payoff isn’t just in the numbers, it’s in the quality of works I read. Since I started this project, I’ve read more widely, discovered writers who could make my least favorite genres sing, and nearly excised uncomfortably objectifying portrayals of women from my reading experiences. Totally worth the three hours total I have probably spent over the course of the year curating my reading list.

And now, in no particular order, my top ten books of 2017.

  • Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney. The first of two short story collections that make up my favorites from this year. I can’t quite explain what it is about Cooney that makes me love her so much. It might be her approach to myth and narrative or maybe it’s the utterly glorious exuberance of her style. Or maybe it’s the descent into hell with scary clowns. There’s really no way to tell.
  • Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. I don’t think I realized just how deep my love for retellings of Tam Lin went until someone mentioned on Twitter that this book was one and I dove for it. Howard does an amazing job of transposing the faerie ballad into the realm of modern day anxieties while maintaining the sense of magic and mystery that envelopes the fae in the original.
  • Ninefox Gamit by Yoon Ha Lee. Lee’s a genius, let’s just get that out of the way. His work deliberately looks for the limits of space opera and then pushes. It’s infuriating, mesmerizing, fascinating, and sets the bar ridiculously high for others trying to innovate in the field of space ships attacking other space ships. (Interestingly, the other figure I’d put up there is James S.A. Corey–who is actually two people–as a writer on the other side, pushing space opera towards its most realistic. Both, I think, define the limits of what the genre can do.) But Lee’s major talent is in his ability to build impossibly real and vivid characters out of what appears to be three personality quirks and some chewing gum.
  • The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. Turner’s name gets thrown around with Pierce and McCaffrey and McKinley as a writer who EVERYONE read as a child and was blown away by. As it turns out that I didn’t read everything as a child, I was a bit leery of this series since there are many books I read as a child that do not hold up and what if everyone else was wrong. Everyone else was not wrong, this book and its sequels were just as good at 30 as they would have been at 13.
  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin. She’s two for two with Hugos for this series and, God and the voting public willing, she’ll clinch the third as well. She deserves it. It felt like there was nowhere to go after The Obelisk Gate, but Jemisin takes her readers through the worst to find that there is a future after destruction and desolation. Which, more than anything else, is the path that speculative fiction can pave for us.
  • Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher (a.k.a. Ursula Vernon). Last year, I wrote about Seanan Maguire’s Every Heart a Doorway as a book for those of us who never stop opening wardrobes and looking for Narnia. Summer is a similar sort of book, although more for those of us who have grown up and wondered whether we really would have been as brave and true (and Christian) as the Pevensies, for those of us who have learned that our bravery is not about being a knight, but being a Lorax.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I read this book on Yom Kippur and basically sobbed. Which is not, in retrospect, a great move when you are trying to conserve liquids. There’s a reason this book has been on the NY Times bestseller list for as long as it has and it’s because Thomas is a glorious writer telling a story we all need to hear.
  • Strangers Drowning by Larissa Macfarquhar. Help me, I have become the kind of person who reads a book because the author was interviewed on On Being. This book was not entirely satisfying, though I doubt any treatment of the topic could be, given that we are talking about empathy and altruism and what it means to give of the self. I still don’t know what to do with it, but it won’t leave me along and so it too gets a place here.
  • Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler. Butler’s a genius. She’s one of the greatest writers that speculative fiction has ever seen and I’m going to read at least one book by her every year until I’ve made it through her oeuvre. I finished this book and the first thing I wanted to do was write a syllabus around it. It’s that good and dense and yet so utterly readable that I enjoyed it while sitting on the floor at an SAR shabbaton.
  • If All the Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan. Memoirs are great because they can make even the most distant figure seem like a kindred spirit. And then there are memoirs where, yeah, you understand everything motivating the author because you know exactly what they mean. And its not just because you get all of their literary references. Kurshan’s memoir was that for me. It made me fall in love with the Talmud all over again and its not like I ever fell out of love with it.

And there you have it. 2017 in books. The books were excellent and my reading list keeps growing. May 2018 be as good as the books I am planning to read in it.

Books of 2016

Books of 2016

There are less than two and a half hours left of 2016 and I can’t wait to say good riddance to the thing. But it’s the end of the year as we know it and I haven’t had my celebratory drink yet, so let’s do this thing.

This year, I read 91 books, which is one more than last year. So despite having been a parent this entire year rather than just the last month, I still managed to beat last year. I imagine it’ll be another 20 years or so until I hit 2014 numbers ever again.


Someone is #sorrynotsorry.
Also, for the purposes of convenience and experiment, I wrote this entire thing on an iPad. Thus the truly hideous excel chart colors. The management apologizes.

Anyway, here’s this year’s breakdown.



As with last year, nearly half of my books were published this year. And another quarter were last year. It seems like the 20th century made a bit of a comeback since last year though. I blame that on the course on Science Fiction I taught over the summer. Hard to teach a retrospective without delving into the 20th century.

Ratings wise, I’m doing better than previous years with the majority of books receiving four stars. I’m getting better at picking them, although the duds were pretty memorably terrible.


Numerically speaking, I branched out slightly more than last year since my 5 star books weren’t all by authors I’d already read. Go me!

And then there’s the genres…I read a lot of things that fall under the category of science fiction and fantasy.


No, but seriously. There are so many fascinating books coming out in the field of SF&F, so many interesting authors doing new and exciting things, it’s hard to find time for something else. And I freely confess to a bias towards what fantasy writers in particular can do with their words and their worlds. It seems like the SF&F community is leading the vanguard in thinking about the future. It’s a good place to be. The vanguard, I mean. Not so sure about the future.

And for the diversity question,


Since I’m too lazy to fight with Excel any longer, the percentages are 68% women and 20% POC, so nearly the same as last year. I’m pleased I didn’t get worse. I’m not thrilled I didn’t get better. Quality-wise, the books by POC definitely stand out.

Alright, onto the exciting bit. My top ten books list in more or less the order that I read them:

  • The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell. I loved this book. It’s space exploration and new worlds and religion and meditation on God and tragedy and life. It’s what I want science fiction to be. It treats faith and science with the same delicacy. It’s gorgeous.
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. It’s rare that I actually want to hug a book but, although this one started off slow, it built itself into a wonderful version of steampunk fantasy that teetered just on the edge of the normal world. It had the elegance of one of its own watches in its construction and the emotional core needed to drive the intricacies.
  • A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. I always appreciate when a sequel is even better than the first and this book definitely exceeded expectations. Schwab fascinates with her world-building, her magical rules, and her brilliantly awesome women who can’t help but steal the show.
  • Planetfall by Emma Newman. Even if this were only a book about the mysteries of a planet’s founding and the slow unraveling of a pack of lies, it would deserve a place on this list. But Newman combines it with one of the most sensitive and deft portrayals of mental illness in fiction and that itself deserves praise. Combined, it’s brilliant. And since there are more books set in the world, I won’t even ding her for the ending.
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Let me preface this by saying that Seanan doesn’t usually write the kind of books I like. But this book won me over. It struck the exact right chord. For everyone who looked in the wardrobe to find Narnia, who waited for their Hogwarts letter, who searched surreptitiously for the grail…you will know this book. It’s also the literary equivalent of a slasher film, which honestly only improves the experience.
  • Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. Okay, not everyone needs a mash-up of the 18th century novel and complex heterotopian science fiction. But I do, you guys. I really do. If this book is your thing, it will be your thing utterly and completely.
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Butler has been on my to-read list for a long time, but I finally read her in the summer of 2016 and her narrative of the US’s descent into autocracy, abuse of power, the ravages of climate change rings frighteningly true. Somehow, Butler makes this narrative into a story of hope, not of despair.
  • The Jewel Hinged Jaw by Samuel Delany. This book is a work of literary criticism and I’m sad I had never come across it earlier because Delany writes and analyzes with clarity in both mind and prose. I want to think his thoughts and write his words. Even the most complex ideas come across – he does not make them relatable, but his mastery of his own knowledge is so evident that the reader practically absorbs it from him.
  • Infomocracy by Malka Older. I would recommend reading this book before the 2016 election but, since time travel hasn’t been invented yet, you’ll have to settle for wishing for a world like the one Older imagines. Another instance of science fiction imagining a real and possible future that is neither u- nor dystopian, but a concrete version of our world that is both a vision of what could be better and an understanding that perfect is impossible. Older captures a future that shines as real, if not always realistic in our depressing world. The best part of it is how hard it is to disseminate fake news.
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. It’s like Firefly with diversity and without sexism. No, but seriously, it’s a vision of space opera without battles, of narrative development without ongoing conflict. It’s an almost meandering stream of stories tied together by people and I love that it works so well as a novel precisely because it feels more like a television show at times and that shouldn’t work, but of course it does and beautifully.

So there you have it. My top ten books of 2016. They’re not all five stars, but they are the books that moved me, that stuck with me, that changed the way I read and think. They are the books I will return to in my mind if not to actually reread them. They are the ones that feel the most like they have become a part of me. So, to their authors, thank you for that.

Books of 2015

Or why I still have a blog.

Once again, it’s time to examine my year in reading. This year, I have read 90 books, which is a full 57 books fewer than last year.

Wonder how that happened…


Baby looking surprised as if she has no idea what effect she has on my reading

Anyway, let’s see how this year stacks up. It looks a lot like last year, interestingly enough.

Publication Years 2015

Books by Publication Year, heavily biased towards 2015

Nearly half the books I read in 2015 were published in 2015. One will be published next year – I read the Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) and have no regrets. About 90% were published this decade. Basically, this was a year for reading new books as they came out and little else.

Ratings of 2015

Books by Ratings

The ratings look about the same as last year – mostly 4s and 3s. Interestingly enough, I read the same number of 5s this year as I did last year. Which suggests that I’m getting better at picking the books I’ll love. And all of those books were written by authors I’ve already read. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or not. Still, a pretty good track record.

Genres of 2015

And, once again, Fantasy wins out by a landslide. This comes as no surprise. And, honestly, most of the historical books are also either fantasy or speculative fiction. I’m beginning to wonder whether the genre differences are specious. I’m not sure what they actually tell my readers about my reading habits.

Although it will always be more interesting to look at the actual books than the stats, the stats are important too.

Books and Authors Inclusivity

Books by Inclusivity

This particular set of stats, for example, is quite important. Also, wow, not reading any non-fiction has really skewed the gender ratios. And I did much better than last year in terms of reading authors of color. 1 out of 5 is not good – 50/50 would be better, but, it’s definitely an improvement over last year. Progress requires effort and, honestly, I found that while I was more aware of race and gender as they applied to books this year, I’m not sure how much actual effort I put in. I was, at least, determined to track down new releases by authors of color that I was pretty sure I would like. So I’m both pleased to be a little better and determined to continue embettering myself.

Okay, now that we’re done with all that, let’s move on to the fun bits. Favorite books of the year, as sorted vaguely by category.


  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. This was so good. This was so far beyond good, I don’t even know what to do with it. Jemisin has always been a master of world-building, but the care with which she crafts (and destroys) this one is unparalleled. More importantly, the world and the characters in it make strident points about the workings of power and oppression by being compelling characters in richly detailed settings. She tells a good story and, in doing so, shows what epic fantasy is capable of.
  • Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone. Gladstone is my most read author this year, with all four published books of the Craft sequence on the list. He’s an equally interesting example of what epic fantasy becomes in the hands of a talented writer. Gladstone’s books ask, rather simply, why epic fantasy is always set in medieval realms with sword fights and great armies clashing. What happens if it’s set in a more contemporary setting? Well, the battles move to the courtrooms, the desks of accountants and lawyers, the slums about to be gentrified. Start with either Three Parts Dead or Last First Snow.
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. A bit less serious than my other recommendations, but no less enjoyable (and will not rip your heart to shreds, unlike my first recommendation). Cho clearly enjoys the Regency romance and the conceit of setting magic in 19th century England, which makes her book a loving pastiche rather than a vicious skewering. The latter may be enjoyable, but they are rarely good stories. Cho’s book blends romance and fantasy in a way that makes both better and, really, what more can you ask from a genre mashup?

Science Fiction

  • Radiance by Catherynne Valente. …This might not actually be sci-fi. It is set in the science fiction novels of the first half of the 20th century–before we know what we know now about the solar system and intrastellar travel. But it’s also set in an alternate version of the 20s, what Valente calls Decopunk, with silent movies and the silver screen on Luna and it all sounds incredibly madcap. Valente also tells much of the story through transcripts, movie pitches, and screen plays, which makes the book feel like it should be a movie even when it is so obviously unfilmable. The use of other forms of written media to tell a visual story is brilliant and I still can’t quite believe she pulls it off with such a degree of panache.

Speculative Fiction

  • The Just City by Jo Walton. Quite literally speculative fiction, Walton’s premise is that, for reasons best known to herself, the goddess Athena collects an array of humans from throughout history to set up Plato’s Republic on an island far in the past. It’s a gedankenexperiment masquerading as a story, but it works because it’s also a story about the people of the city, the governed and governing and what it means to have agency. Walton’s brilliance lies in her understanding that all good thought experiments about people only work when feelings are involved as well. I’m not sure if this is the work of speculative fiction that I enjoyed the most this year, but it’s certainly the one I found the most interesting.


  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Given that I read so few books that are not genre and given that I think Atkinson is brilliant, this book was kinda a shoe-in. It’s a companion to Life After Life and, while it mostly lacks the conceit of its predecessor, Atkinson tells the story with the same disregard for chronology that made Life After Life so successful. She makes a mystery out of ordinary life, piecing together the clues that make one man the man that he is, and uses that one man’s life to tell the story of Britain during and after WWII. It’s a genre that, though often reworked, never gets old when done well.


  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Everything I wanted in a young adult novel. It’s like returning to all my favorite authors from when I was a teenager without the lurking presence of the suck fairy. (When you go back to a beloved childhood classic to discover that it is racist, sexist, filled with wooden characters, badly written, or all of the above, it has been visited by the suck fairy. Clearly it could not have been that bad when you were younger. Something must have happened.) I’m not sure if I can pinpoint why this book is so good–the story is innovative although not new, the plot pales before Novik’s telling of it and it’s not as though female character driven YA is new or anything. She does what she does so well, it’s impossible not to enjoy it.
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Wait, two WWII novels about pilots on this list? Code Name Verity is no less brilliant for being shelved in the YA section. Wein’s story about the women’s auxiliary branch of the airforce during WWII is fascinating, packed full of information I’d never even guess. All of which is secondary compared to the two brilliant women at the heart of the narrative.


  • Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Cetury by Shaul Stampfer. A niche market, I know, but if you happen to be interested in what it was like to attend Volozhin during the 1800s, look no further.

And there you have it, the books of 2015. Maybe next year I’ll aim really low. Like 50 books.

For more details, in depth reviews and a look at my ratings, feel free to check out my books of 2015 on Goodreads and I will see you all next year!

My Year in Books on Goodreads

Books of 2014

Well, it has been a while since I’ve used this thing, but my end-of-the-year Book Review 1 has to go somewhere.

Because it’s not a year until I’ve quantified my reading. This list is current as of December 21st, 2014. Any books I read over the next 10 days may or may not be included as I see fit. Also, because Goodreads does not let you add reread dates (which annoys me to no end, but there you go), this is actually a list of books that I read for the first time in this particular medium in 2014. So there may be a reread or two that made their way on here because I listened to them for the first time. This explains some fairly noticeable lacunae (such as why none of the books I taught this summer are on the list – if I was reading them for the first time as I was teaching them, we would be in trouble).

With that out of the way, let’s look at the data. I read a LOT of recently published books.

Year Pie Chart

Over 1/2 of the books I read were published in the past 3 years and 1/5 were published this year. Which means I’m kinda keeping up, but it also means that if I missed it, I missed it. Over 80% of the books that I read were written in the 21st century. So there is a noticeable bias there.

Next up, the inscrutable rating system. As a reminder, unrated means I read it for school and those don’t really fit on a scale that tells you how much I liked them.

Rating Pie Chart

Overall, a smaller percentage of books got 5 and 4 stars as compared to last year, while more books got 3. We do not tolerate grade inflation except that we totally do. And I either “like” or “really like” the vast majority of things. If I don’t at least like it, the odds are good I won’t get through it and then it probably doesn’t end up on goodreads in the first place. The nameless pile of half-finished and all-forgotten tomes is not a part of this round-up.

I also read a lot of fantasy.

Genre Bar Chart

Like, a disproportionate amount. And while genres are not mutually exclusive–which is to say that a book can be both fantasy and historical–this means that nearly half the books that I read this year qualify as fantasy. I’d complain, except fantasy is really good and I refuse to buy into the literary versus non-literary divide. Some of the best books doing the most interesting things qualify as genre. And, even if you disagree, de gustibus non est disputandum. So there’s that.

And now we move to the more important things.

Gender Pie Chart All

The first chart refers to how many books I read by male versus female authors. The fourth chart refers to how many male authors versus female authors I read. So the first chart would count two books by the same woman as 2 books, while the second would count that as 1 author. What this means, basically, is that I was more likely to read several books by a woman than by a man.

Either way, I was really good about gender this year! And, for those of you who missed the brief twitter rant, here’s the deal. It’s still easier for men to get published, to get good marketing, to get recognition, to get reviews and not to have their works dismissed. Whether we’re still in the realm of Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing 2 or not, there’s still a lot of work to do to achieve parity. So if you don’t go out of your way to read books by women, you will inevitably end up with a disproportionately male reading list. A lot of really excellent work fades because of how bad the industry is at promoting women’s work. So, in the interest of fairness, I’m trying to take up some of the slack, at least in my own reading and have been doing so for the past several years 3.
And, in this case, I was successful.

I was…decidedly less successful when it came to race. 97% of the books that I read this year were by white authors. I don’t need to show you what that pie chart looks like, right? You can imagine it.
And everything I just said about gender holds doubly true for authors of color. If you think being a woman and getting published in SF&F is difficult, just wait until you throw race into the mix.

So this is next year’s resolution (made easier by the fact that both N.K. Jemisin and Aliette de Bodard are publishing new books next year). Read more books by authors of color – catch up with Junot Diaz, read more Nnedi Okorafor (who writes really good middle grade fantasy, but just published a book for adults), give Nalo Hopkinson a try, finally read Octavia Butler and Samual R. Delany (I know, I know!) and, of course, take on the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms omnibus. I, umm, will also take recommendations for non SF&F.

So much for the quantitative analysis. Now for the good bit. What were the greatest books I read this year? Divided by genre and I reserve the right to have several favorite books within a genre. Because.

  • Fantasy
    • The Eternal Sky Trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. First book is Range of Ghosts. Really good at everything you want epic fantasy to be good at.
    • The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. Narrated by Euan Morton. I’ve read this before, but this was my first listen and it was just as wonderful as I remembered. If you enjoy complex fantasy worlds and have an interest in the Abrahamic religions during the golden age of Spain, you will appreciate this book.
    • The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher, penname of children’s book author Ursula Vernon. It’s kind of a retelling of Bluebeard, but also very much its own fairy tale and it manages to be lyrical and lovely while still absolutely laden with common sense and scary as anything.
  • Science Fiction
    • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. After winning the triple crown (The Arthur C. Clarke, Nebula and Hugo awards) for her previous book, there was some speculation as to whether the sequel could possibly live up. It does.
    • Dust by Elizabeth Bear. I stand by my description on goodreads that Dust is the space-opera/arthurian-romance mashup I never knew I needed. I think I love this one despite its strangeness and I admit it’s probably not for everyone, but it seriously worked for me.
  • Speculative Fiction (yes, it’s a different category than either SF or F. It’s something that fits in neither.)
    • Railsea by China Miéville. I’m going to quote my own review again – “[I]f Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey had a very odd looking baby, it would be something like this book.” It’s wonderful, though. Miéville is at his best when he’s not writing solely for adults.
  • Historical Fiction
    • The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine. A late entry and not even the highest rated book in the genre, but I really liked what it tried to do and, even though it doesn’t quite succeed, I appreciate it nonetheless.
  • Romance
    • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Kate Rorick and Bernie Su. Narrated by Ashley Clements. Yes, there’s a book adaptation of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries series. Yes, of course I read it. And it was delightful.
  • Young Adult
    • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Sniffle.
    • Both Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Sarah Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogies finished this year and while I started them last year, the end is the most important for trilogies that are really one story stretched across 3 books 4. First books are Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Unspokenrespectively.
  • Fiction
    • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I really should have read more Ishiguro by now, but I’m working on it!
  • Non-Fiction – which is all critical literature this year. So my favorite work of theory…

And…that’s all folks. A gross of books, 39 of which I read for school/work.

  1. Now with 300% more pie charts! 
  2. The quotes on the cover say it all – “She didn’t write it. She wrote it but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. She wrote it, but she only wrote one of it. She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist and it isn’t really art. She wrote it, but she had help. She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. She wrote it BUT…” 
  3. I should not need to say this, but just in case. This project has not made the quality of my reading go down. (Which just keeps making the point that the best is not always what is most heavily promoted). Quite the opposite – the stories I read are more interesting, they push the bounds of stagnant genres, they create characters who feel more fully realized. They are, in short, more innovative and exciting because of what their authors bring to the table. 
  4. IMG
    The management would like to apologize for putting jokes in the footnotes. 

Musings on Media

Wintertime has arrived. I’ve already experienced three snowfalls, as befits someone who was actually excited to leave the West Coast and return, if only for a bit, to the nosebitingly cold East Coast. I miss my palm trees, yes, but my chin has finally thawed from this morning’s excursion and there’s nothing like sitting inside with a mug of tea and fuzzy slippers while the snow falls down outside…although the nature of qualia are that they are not like anything other than themselves. There’s nothing quite like accidentally spilling boiling tea over your left thumb either (she says from rueful experience).

Winter has many features in my life; one of the odd ones is that its the only time of year I really bother to see movies. Disney movies tend to come out during the winter, as do Peter Jackson’s walking tours of New Zealand and I will go and see those no matter what. I’m three for four in terms of this year’s crop of movies; the fourth is not really out yet, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing it soon. The four movies of this season are, in order of release:

Thor 2: The Dark World


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Saving Mr. Banks

I am more than willing to admit that I lack “sophisticated” tastes in film. If the acting is good and the story holds together, my requirements have been met. What I care about is whether the story can draw me in and win me over. (This is actually not much of a surprise; my current research is on how forms of New Media affect us emotionally and create connections between work and reader/viewer/user/player. Of course I care about movies that emotionally affect me.) Beautiful visuals are a plus. So, with that in mind, I present Liz’s well thought-out and most definitely not off the top of her head thoughts on the three films she has already seen. Conveniently, one of them exactly met her expectations, one fell short and one completely surpassed them. As a note, I will consign all spoilers to the footnotes. And I’m assuming that you’ve read the Hobbit and Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” at some point and that content that appears in there does not count as spoilable.

Thor 2  – this movie was exactly what it said on the tin. Assuming the tin said “Superhero movie with snarkiness provided by Tom Hiddleston”. I enjoy the kind of superhero movies that Marvel has been producing recently precisely because they are unabashedly superhero movies. They’re a bit over the top and occasionally absurd, but that’s the nature of the genre. Superheroes are supposed to be larger than life and the Thor movies capture that exceedingly well. There have been some interesting conversations online about why we’ve reached an era of superhero movies right now (which assumes that a) they’re not a cinematic constant and b) Disney backing Marvel isn’t a good enough reason). The one I enjoy the most is the argument that superheroes are the incarnations of myths and gods in our age, the archetypal stories that get rewrapped in the clothing of their times. They as resonant as ever and we enjoy watching the epic battle of good versus evil play out every time we see it. The mark of our age is that we have a tendency to destroy Manhattan, L.A. or London in the process. Usually Manhattan.

Speaking of the epic battle between good and evil, let’s move to the film that disappointed me. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was a perfectly fine movie, but I’m used to being blown away by the Lord of the Rings movies (can we agree to call all 6 films Lord of the Rings Movies because “The Middle Earth Hexology” sounds like the wizard’s guide to spell-casting?) and I just wasn’t this time. It might have been that Peter Jackson has finally discovered the point past which I will no longer tolerate deviations from the original text and sped on past that point with impunity. On that note, he might have surpassed the number of times I will tolerate elves turning up to save the day. This movie is about dwarves. They’re not perfect dwarves, but it is their story and they should have been the heroes more often. This was the first of the LOTR movies that requires the qualification “very loosely based on JRR Tolkien”. The first Hobbit was expanded beyond the original source material to incorporate Peter Jackson’s interpretations of the appendices, but the story itself remained more or less unchanged. There were extra orcs, yes. And the fact that I’m defending the authenticity of the first movie should tell you just how far off this one was. So, yes, the fact that this movie didn’t feel like a visual dramatization of Tolkien’s world was jarring.

It wasn’t a bad movie. But it was a movie whose value exists almost entirely in the excellence of the cast. I love Martin Freeman as Bilbo; his ability to be awkwardly expressive is one of the most adorable and wonderful features of both films. And Richard Armitage still does a great Thorin Oakenshield. Honestly, all the dwarves were excellent. They each have personality and the movie would feel poorer without each one. I was less impressed with the elves (except Lee Pace’s Thranduil, which was entirely over-the-top and perfectly right in being so), but I’m not sure whether that’s because Legolas has exactly two facial expressions or because all he is allowed to do is stand still and kill things.* And Smaug was a sight to behold.

My favorite scene was probably the escape from Thranduil’s halls in the barrels. That was amazing and was one of the few scenes (along with the unexpected dinner party in the first movie) that really captured the tone and feeling of the book. And many of Jackson’s alterations really work.** But it was, as my sister pointed out, mostly filler and so much of it was just unnecessary. Jackson hasn’t successfully convinced me that this needed to be three movies yet.

But onto happier things. Frozen was amazing. After first seeing it, I had decided it was good, albeit a bit flawed, but the more time I spend thinking about it, the less I see the flaws as flaws or even see them at all. Josh and I were discussing how we felt about Frozen and one of the issues that came up was how every movie currently made felt the need to be a little bit meta, a little fourth-wall-breaking. We can no longer be earnest in cinema (cue Oscar Wilde joke). We have to have moments when we are explicitly reminded that what we are watching is a performance and is in dialogue with previous performances of a similar kind. Frozen does something of this sort in that it reminds you that you’re in a fairy tale by pointing out or even slyly mocking fairy tale tropes. This bothered me far less the second time around (did I mention that I saw it again?) because disconcerting breaks lose their force via repetition. When you know a character is about to do or say something that does not quite fit with the very well developed fairy tale world, it’s no longer jarring. (I realize this makes me Queen of Pedantville, but one of the songs mentions fractals and, based on the clothing and weaponry in the movie, the idea of fractals had yet to be discovered. It bothered Josh as well, which I suppose makes him the King) So, on the second viewing, the film’s earnestness rang truer for me and I loved it more.

I was also a bit disappointed at first that it was less like 1990s style musical (and, thus, in the style of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast) and more like a 2010s style musical. I held out for about 12 hours before buying the soundtrack and have since listened to it…oh, about 15 times. The songs were even better than I’d realized. Unlike Enchanted, this film does not waste Idina Menzel’s talent.

The flip-side of Frozen’s slightly meta approach is that it’s actually possible to spoil this movie. I cannot remember the last time a Disney movie had a substantive and unpredictable plot.*** But this movie is great and it lets Disney address some of the critiques that have been leveled at it over the years. They get a lot of things right, especially with their portrayal of female characters.****

It’s not Lion King, as my mother pointed out. Few things are. But if Disney meets this standard for its next few releases, I will be absolutely thrilled.

So there you have it – three movies, three different reactions. And while I think that verbalizing my reactions goes some way towards explaining why I feel the way I feel about these movies, I wish I knew whether my original emotional responses were actually based in the reasons I list above. Was I just unconsciously aware of these critical interpretations and my emotions were ahead of my abilities to cogitate about them? Or am I inventing connections between how I felt then and what I’m thinking now? How I feel about them now is certainly influenced by this post, but were my earlier emotions equally based in these ideas I had yet to articulate?

Bah, humbug.

(Oh, yes. That reminds me. Neil Gaiman dressed up as Charles Dickens and performing a live reading of “A Christmas Carol” out of Dickens’ own prompt copy of the book was amazing! I may even be able to call it research.)


* I was fine with the elves turning up to scare away the giant spiders and I was even okay when they hunted down the orcs during the barrel riding scene. Their third appearance in Laketown was just absurd. And the Kili/Tauriel thing was cute (and a nice presage for Gimli’s massive crush on Galadriel), but is there a reason that Bofur couldn’t have saved Kili? I mean, really? Aren’t the dwarves allowed to do anything themselves? Because the constant reintroduction of elves saving the day makes it look like the dwarves are completely incompetent. Which is unfortunate, because they really are the better characters (and, in my opinion, better actors).

**The thing with the arrow and giant bow, for example, is a far neater way of handling Smaug’s future death than having the thrush report an overheard conversation to Bard, who can inexplicably understand it.

***Prince Hans? Seriously? Well played, Disney. Also, whoever was in charge of the marketing fell down seriously on selling this movie, but the way that they use Hans to make it look like a double romance on the posters was genius.

****Elsa ends the movie in full control of her powers without losing either her magic or her sense of self. She basically learns that bottling up her emotions and pretending nothing hurts is unhealthy and that she’s supposed to show her feelings and embrace them. And no one ever has any problem with her being Queen even after accidentally freezing the kingdom. And she even gets to keep her new dress and hairstyle. Rather than Brave’s ending, which shows a kind of compromise between Elinor and Merida, Elsa does not need to change anything about who she is. For all that she suffers during the movie, the only characters who try to punish her for being powerful are the villains. And then there’s Anna. While Elsa was probably my favorite character (or possibly tied with Sven the reindeer), Anna was also amazing. She saves herself! She actually gets to perform the act of true love that saves her and it’s sisterly affection rather than a true love’s kiss. God, I’ve been waiting for years for Disney to do something like this!